Today I want to write about what “home” is. This is a long meander.
I’ve moved, I’d imagine, a not-unusual number of times for a woman of my age in the US, including twice (oops, now three times!) 1,900 miles across the country. And I moved around locally in the Washington, DC area any number of times after college. But I was always – from my first tiny apartment – a person deeply invested in creating my … nest, my refuge, my safe space, as opposed to people for whom home is where they hang their hat, to use that old aphorism.
When my father died he was still living in the home I’d grown up in, the home he and my mother bought before their kids were born. They were both homebodies and introverts, and I vaguely remember some brief drama as a kid, late-night arguments over whether to move several houses down the street to a home that was nicer than ours and had a backyard pool. (Interestingly, I can’t remember who wanted to move, and what the counterargument was, but we stayed put.) My dad worked at the same government agency for thirty years, and outside of that my parents were people who mostly stayed home, surrounded by books and dusty furniture and kids and dogs.
I moved away to college and back, and to a series of apartments that became row houses and then houses, and now back to a one-bedroom casita (literally, “little house” in Spanish). It’s a fairly typical structure in Santa Fe and (I’m assuming) not just the southwest but some other parts of the US, where if your lot was big enough and building codes allowed, you slapped up an accessory structure in the backyard for extended family as needed. Many of the casitas here have turned into separate rentals, although they’re harder to get now as long-term tenants because people can make more money renting them to tourists on AirBnB, but I digress.
What creates a person with a strong sense of “home” and place? I know plenty of people who had one-home childhoods yet who move all the time and don’t seem especially attached to wherever they’re living at the moment. Yeah, they have furniture and dishes and whatnot, but it’s not a priority for them, it’s just the current address. But I felt rattled staying at my friend’s lovely guesthouse this time, where I’ve enjoyed many a vacation stay, because (I realized) I had no home I was anchored to. It hit me at an odd time, too – when I was making the final long-distance hand-over arrangements to the landlord. I sat on my friend’s couch and sobbed, because that home – that rental we’d wound up in after my divorce, a nest I’d fully and deliberately feathered over the years as if my life depended on it, which on a psychic level it did – was gone, and not quite replaced yet.
But now I’m here in my casita. My boxes arrived looking like they’d been kicked across the country, and it’s a testament to my packing skills that most of their contents were unbroken. My furniture was generally okay, just grimy as hell. I’d never seen the casita I rented except for a brief FaceTime tour, and I didn’t have a floor plan. Everything was downsizing and guesswork. And … you know what? Holy cow, it’s perfect. Kismet, like it was made for me and my stuff.
There’s been good luck too. Nails in adobe walls that were the obvious spot for a particular piece of artwork. (You don’t bang nails willy-nilly into adobe and plaster, there’s strategy involved.) Furniture that has an obvious spot—the spot – where each piece goes. The only thing the movers lost over several truck transfers was my pandemic work desk, bought off Craigslist when we were settling in for the long haul (I met the guy in a parking lot for the exchange) and oh well, if they had to lose something that was the perfect choice! I replaced it at Goodwill a few days ago with the only desk they had, small and cheap and also, amazingly, a match for the wall-mounted bookcase it’s in front of. Finally, that “vase” on the kitchen table in the top photo is actually a big earthenware pitcher; my cream-colored one was a talisman for Santa Fe, I pictured fresh cut flowers in it every day on the kitchen table. Then the movers shattered it. But I used the maker’s mark on the bottom to find the exact same pitcher on eBay, this one in a deep blue I like even better.
I went in a different, more modern (but still eclectic) direction for the casita. I sent the “real” furniture, fancy dishes, cookware, etc. to Maine with the kids for their new townhome together, including two heavy armoires (one ugly-beautiful Brutalist and one 18th century Spanish oak so massive even the movers gripe about it, I did say we’re eclectic!) and my daughter was thrilled to have them in her new home with the boys, because she didn’t own much. I brought smaller favorites here with me – like our sunny yellow vintage Formica and chrome kitchen table that makes me smile, my Thonet bentwood chairs, my dad’s small secretary desk from his childhood, lamps and side tables and a coffee table from mine, and a dresser we bought in Santa Fe thirty years ago, back for its encore.
I already mentioned the smudging ritual; now each day I wake up early and clean as I build my new nest. The focus this week has been on the wood furniture, which was overdue for polishing even before the move and desperate for attention after. Is there anything more satisfying than that process? That slow, methodical first dust and wipe-down, then a deeper clean as needed with a damp cloth and mild soap, and then a leisurely wax and polish, producing an immediate, tangible reward for the effort. If I’m feeling antsy, I can grab a rag and pick up where I left off. It’s peaceful and meditative. The entire house smells of piñon incense and orange oil.
I’m still figuring out the sofa situation, since my exterior doors are only 28″ wide. I’ll probably go with some kind of convertible couch (where the back folds down) or futon sofa. To me, the living room won’t be finished until I have a sofa to sprawl on, to read and dream and nap.
What’s a home for you? Do you nest? Do you move all the time? Is home where you hang your hat, or is it something much bigger and more vital to your sense of self and peace?
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